Tuesday 7 May 2013

Baarle-Nassau, Netherlands... or Baarle-Hertog, Belgium

The small town of Baarle lies in the south Netherlands, a few kilometres from the Belgian border.  Except that, in the case of Baarle, it isn't quite that simple.  There is something about the border which makes Baarle quite remarkable.  By a quirk of history, parts of the town aren't in the Netherlands at all.

Although the main border runs a few kilometres south of the town, Baarle contains 22 Belgian enclaves (which themselves then have 7 Dutch enclaves within them).  This is the result of mediaeval treaties over ownership of the land.  The town is split between two municipalities - Baarle-Nassau for the Dutch parts, Baarle-Hertog for the parts which are in Belgium.

Since the boundaries of the enclaves date from mediaeval times, they do not reflect the subsequent development of the town.  Thus the borders are at times quite random, sometimes passing through buildings.  Here, the border cuts straight through the middle of a shop.

Where buildings are split by the border, they are deemed to be part of whichever country the front door is located in.

Baarle is not served by rail.  The line from Turnhout (Belgium) to Tilburg (Netherlands) had a station in the town, but the line closed in the 1970s.  Public transport to Baarle is provided by buses, with links from and to the Dutch town of Breda as well as Tilburg and Turnhout.

Veolia (website in Dutch language only) are the operator of bus services in the North Brabant province of the Netherlands.  One route operates into Baarle - route 132, linking Breda with Tilburg.  This generally runs hourly, seven days a week although at certain times on Mondays to Fridays, this rises to half-hourly (particularly between Baarle and Breda).

Veolia's publicity refers to the town by its Dutch name "Baarle-Nassau".

On a journey from Tilburg to Breda, route 132 enters two Belgian enclaves.  In the opposite direction, because of borders running down the middle of the street in places, a bus will leave and re-enter one of the enclaves.  As it heads out of Baarle towards Tilburg, it will enter another enclave where the centre of the road forms the border.  So on a journey from Breda to Tilburg (in this direction), route 132 makes eight border crossings (NL>B>NL>B>NL>B>NL>B>NL).

The route south to Turnhout is provided by De Lijn, with route 460 operating an hourly service seven days a week.  On the day that I visited in April 2012, an articulated bus was operating the service. 

The Belgian operator refers to the town by its Belgian name, thus "Baarle-Hertog" is displayed on the front of the bus.

In this image the bus is setting down in the town centre.  The position of the border means the front section of the bus has stopped in the Netherlands but the rear section is in Belgium.

The town centre is not the terminus for route 460 - it continues to a terminus a couple of streets away in Sint Janstraat (which is the main stop for Veolia's 132 in Baarle).  This takes it along a street where an enclave border runs down the middle of the road.  Buses heading to the terminus stay on the Dutch side of the street but buses heading back to Turnhout enter and leave Belgium even before reaching the town centre.  This happens again close to the final border crossing point, where southbound buses enter and leave another Belgian enclave but northbound buses stay in the Netherlands.  So a bus from the Baarle terminus to Turnhout will make nine border crossings (NL>B>NL>B>NL>B>NL>B>NL>B) on its journey which takes around 20-25 minutes, end-to-end.

In this image, taken in the centre of Baarle, the border is clearly visible - the bus is in the Netherlands but just about to enter a Belgian enclave, the second of four it will encounter before its final crossing into Belgium. 

Baarle's local tourist office magazine (PDF) includes a more detailed description of the enclaves and their history, as does the City Metric website.

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